Between the family obligations, office parties, gift exchanges and the overload of retail discounts, it doesn’t take long for well-meaning holiday spending to spiral out of control.
Whether you’ve avoided setting aside a holiday budget at all or you simply find those sales hard to ignore, there are plenty of obstacles to leave you wondering where your savings went come January.
Stay ahead of the curve and avoid these common spending mistakes so you won’t start the new year with a heap of debt.
Mistake No. 1: Overspending on the extras
Between $6 rolls of gift wrap, $4 greeting cards and $10 battery packs to power everyone’s gifts, even the most savvy shoppers can fall victim to incidental costs.
Holiday travel and hosting means a risk of more costly incidentals as well. Your car goes through more wear and tear during travel between states and your monthly utilities increase when guests stay over.
Before you know it, you can rack up hundreds of dollars of charges ranging from gift accessories to oil changes.
Solution: Account for everything
Don’t let these items, big or small, cause you to overspend.
Even if some of these costs are unavoidable, you can cushion their impact. Shop smarter at bulk stores like Costco and build incidentals into your holiday budget from the beginning. Use your already-dedicated emergency savings for costs like car repairs that your regular budget doesn’t cover.
“That’s why you have your savings and why you should always have some savings available,” says Danna Jacobs, founding partner at Legacy Care Wealth in Jersey City, New Jersey. “When you do have expenses come up, whether it be additional holiday giving or a car breaks down, you can pull from that for the extra funds to make sure you can make ends meet.”
Mistake No. 2: Going into the season without a plan
Perennial holiday over-spenders know the feeling of dread that comes with January’s credit card statement.
Each day you put off developing your holiday spending plan, it can become even easier to dip into your savings or to justify those extra credit card charges when you’re down to the gift-shopping wire.
Solution: Spread your planning throughout the year
Jacobs recommends budgeting throughout the year so you don’t have to scramble come holiday season.
“It sounds crazy to talk about 2019 already, but now is the time,” she says. Put away a small amount each month, “then when that bill comes next year, you have the funds to pay all of your holiday spending without having to go out of pocket.”
Consumers are expected to spend around $1,000 during the holiday season this year, according to the National Retail Federation. If you divert just $100 each month into a savings account throughout the year, you’ll be able to cover those costs and save yourself from taking on debt for any extras.
There are other planning methods as well. Jacobs suggests saving your credit cards’ cash-back rewards throughout the year in anticipation of the holidays, evaluating your other credit card rewards before shopping and supplementing your spending with any unused gift cards.
Once you’ve finalized your gift list, spend a few minutes comparing prices at different stores and online to ensure you’re getting the best deal. It may result in only a few dollars’ difference, but over the course of the season, those savings will add up.
Mistake No. 3: Putting financial priorities on the backburner
According to a 2017 survey by Country Financial, 62 percent of Americans planned to either dip into their savings, forgo additional savings, take on credit card debt or borrow money for their holiday spending.
If you let yourself get too caught up in the seasonal spirit, you can lose sight of the long-term financial goals that you’ve prioritized over the past year.
Solution: Don’t lose sight of your goals
Make sure you cover your regular monthly expenses and savings obligations before you start swiping your credit card.
“You have to find a balance,” Jacobs says. “Be realistic about what your real budget is. Work with budget tools, and then set a reminder on your phone to make sure you’re checking in with them. By doing that, you can position yourself very well so that you have that level of awareness and it will start driving your decisions.”
Mistake No. 4: Giving into spending pressures
It can be easy to give in to the pressures of holiday parties, gift exchanges and travel opportunities. In fact, more than 45 percent of Americans feel pressured to spend more money on holiday gifts than they’re comfortable with, according to a Bankrate survey.
“A lot of times, people that are the most generous with others are those who present as if they have more financial means than they actually do in their household,” Jacobs says. “That’s an ongoing pattern, overspending on others.”
Solution: Get creative
You don’t have to get extravagant in your gift giving to prove that you care.
“Try not to fall into a behavioral pattern of trying to compensate with spending money on things, because time and love are more valuable than anything you can buy,” Jacobs says.
Handmade gifts and homemade foods are always an option. You can also suggest a group gift swap rather than exchanging gifts with everyone.
“Often, people are more open and conducive to a gift swap arrangement,” Jacobs says. “It can be better and more meaningful as a recipient to get one meaningful gift than a lot of little ones.”
To avoid regret come January, keep your perspective this season. Put your bigger goals and budget in focus, and be honest with your loved ones about your spending limits.
“The holiday season is so much fun, but it can be so stressful,” Jacobs says. “If we get too much out of our normal habits and go crazy, we just end up unhappy and frustrated in the end. It’s all about balance.”